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General Mills Presents: Justice League (2017) #2 [Review]

general_mills_2017_justice_league_0002Dark Reflections

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Rick Leonardi
Inkers: Bob Wiacek and Scott Hanna
Colorist: Rex Lokus
Letterer: Comicraft
Cover Artist: Scott Koblish
Cover Colorist: Val Staples
Assistant Editor: Brittany Holzherr
Editor: Steve Buccellato
Group Editor: Marie Javins
Design Director: Larry Berry

This is the "second" issue of four being made available to the public "blindly" via insertion into specially-marked boxes of General Mills cereal. Though the issues ARE numbered, the first issue and this one do not seem to draw on each other or lead into the other with any singular story, so the numbers are–I’m pretty confident in saying–there to stimulate collectors’ OCD to collect ’em all.

This issue focuses on Batman, though it guest-stars the rest of the Justice League.

Batman arrives home after a "typical" night out. After talking with Alfred and having a flashback to his youth where his parents were still around, Bruce catches a glimpse of a reflection in the mirror that is most certainly not him looking back! Turns out that Mirror Master (one of Flash’s Rogues) has expanded his reach (with the unintentional assistance of Flash himself) to vex the entire Justice League. Using mirrors as gateways, interdimensional counterparts of our heroes are brought through, and the heroes square off with them. While everyone tangles with their mirrored counterparts, Batman (through recalling an incident from his youth) develops a plan to deal with this threat and stop Mirror Master.

Nicieza and Leonardi are a couple more names that I’m definitely familiar with, though I’m far moreso with the former than latter. I’m honestly impressed at the way this issue–and this round of GM Justice League as a whole–has the talent and appearances of something much bigger and less generic than "just" cereal-box comics. At the same time, unfortunately (by seeming necessity) these ARE rather smaller and more generic than non-cereal counterparts.

The story itself is fairly basic, drawing on some basic tropes of comics in general…particularly the lead-in with Batman having just gotten back from a night out, talking about the off-panel adventure, remembering something from his childhood while his parents were alive, and that conveniently being relevant to the current story at hand. Yet, while that may come off as a negative…it fits perfectly into what these comics can and might be–someone’s first. These days, it’s not hard to imagine that there are countless staunch fans of even "obscure" comic book characters…yet said fans may never have actually experienced a comic book! So while these are overdone, overly-familiar things to me as a nearly-30-years comics reader, they may well be someone’s first exposure and be at least some small part of their journey into comics.

The story elements overall do not particularly contradict what I know of the characters, and particularly Batman in this case, though this definitely comes detached from the nuances of recent continuity that I’m familiar with. My biggest eye-opener is the notion of the characters nonchalantly hauling the moon out of its orbit with zero repercussions to the Earth. Perfect for a comic like this, maybe, but epic event-level stuff in general continuity.

Visually, if the pages were "regular" sized and I didn’t see a cover, I wouldn’t really know this was "just" some cereal-box comic…it has "established talent," and does not look like some generic thing. The art is quite good in and of itself, though as with a lot of comic book art, its primary drawback is simply in not being by one of a handful of my favorite comic artists. Once again, these characters look like they’re right out of early-2017 full-size DC comics, down to Batman’s current gold-outlined black bat symbol. Superman’s look is about to be out of date, but fits well into the past ten or so months’ worth of DC Rebirth.

As with the first issue, this was an ok read with good art. It’s a cereal comic and certainly worth reading, but it in no way affects continuity nor particularly draws from it. You might appreciate this more if you’re NOT up on current comics, as you may be less likely to do hard comparisons. I wouldn’t go out of the way to hunt this down, but if you like the cereal and it’s in the box, definitely give it a read-through!

general_mills_2017_justice_league_0002_blogtrailer

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Age of Apocalypse (2015) #1 [Review]

secretwars_ageofapocalypse001Sticks and Stones…

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Gerardo Sandoval
Colorist: David Curiel
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover: Sandoval & Curiel
Asst. Editor: Xander Jarowey
Editor: Katie Kubert
Executive Editor: Mike Marts
Published by: Marvel
Cover Date: September 2015
Cover Price: $4.99

For what I believe is the first time in years, the “classic,” ORIGINAL Age of Apocalypse logo is back (though lacking the oval and “After Xavier: The“). For over a decade, it seems a newer logo/font has been the “in” thing for use with the branding, from the 10th anniversary-onward. Add to that the fact that we have Magneto and Rogue prominently shown as well as a gratuitous placement of Weapon X (Wolverine)’s hand and claws, and this is something that absolutely grabbed my attention. (There’s also the fact that I revisited the saga in its entirety earlier this year, too!). While the characters are a bit “off” in appearance on the cover, this is still a great image to me, and I especially dig this rendition of Rogue.

We open the story to find the Savage Land under attack by Holocaust–son of Apocalypse (and in this Secret Wars version of the world, Apocalypse is Baron of the realm, with only god Doom above him). Holocaust is also one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, sent to retrieve the young mutant Doug Ramsey (aka “Cypher”). Storm and Quicksilver’s squad of X-Men arrive to fight the monster and save Cypher…though things quickly go pear-shaped for all involved. We then shift to the aftermath and find what Mr. Sinister, Dark Beast, and the Summers brothers are up to as well as learning more about the situation, as Cypher pieces together an important bit of information. And finally, we get to Magneto’s squad of X-Men…and are left hanging for next issue.

As mentioned above about the cover, Sandoval and Curiel‘s art has the characters looking a bit “off” to me…but despite that, the work is very good, and overall I like what I got in this issue. Maybe I would have enjoyed this even more with one of the “classic” artists that worked on the original 1995 Age of Apocalypse, but this IS a newer story, a new look at stuff, and is not actually that SAME Age of Apocalypse (evidenced especially by the presence of modern Tablets that didn’t exist in any sort of commonality back in ’95). There are some differences–Magneto seems overly muscled, Cyclops’ hair seems a lot thicker, longer, and far more wild, and Sinister’s coloring seems more muted than I expected–but in and of itself, I’m cool with it. I enjoyed the look and feel of this issue.

Another selling point for me was very definitely that Nicieza–one of the writers on the original story–is the writer here on this book now. I generally find that I am far more accepting of changes to core elements of a story in new “takes” on an original when an original creator is involved…it’s sort of their seal of approval, being involved.

As we only have a few issues for this story as opposed to several dozen for the original, Nicieza deals nicely with scaling down the cast for the main story while directing our focus a bit. There’s a certain familiarity here that I truly appreciate, while the differences seem to come primarily from the fact that this is an Age of Apocalypse that is part of Battleworld and not solely its own thing…so certain continuity elements simply don’t exist here that did in the original…and/or they flat-out don’t matter. The story rang true to my reading, even more than probably anything else done with the AoA in the past 10  years.

You don’t need to have read the original story to follow this…there’s plenty in-context to move things along. As a part of Secret Wars and the whole “NOW, ALL THAT REMAINS…IS BATTLEWORLD!” this functions believably as simply an alternate take on/situation for X-Men characters. If you’re familiar with and enjoyed the original Age of Apocalypse epic, this version of the characters seems plucked from the heart of that, rather than some new status quo picking up years after the original.

The $4.99 cover price is a bit steep…and though I think I knew OF it a few weeks back looking ahead, I forgot about it, so was somewhat surprised when I re-realized what I’d paid for this. That’s probably also credit back to the cover imagery and logo and then my enjoyment of the story–I was distracted and not bothered by the price. We get about 30 content pages–more than the standard 20-22, so as much as any are these days, I’ll accept that as “justification” for the $4.99.

I thoroughly enjoyed the issue, and despite trying to shift to Marvel‘s Digital Comics Unlimited, I may actually keep current with this series. Highly recommended to Age of Apocalypse fans in particular…this may not be nearly as special as the original story, but as a new story it captures something that really works…at least to me.

The ’90s Revisited: X-Men Prime

90s_revisited

xmenprime001Racing the Night

Writers: Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza
Pencilers: Bryan Hitch, Jeff Matsuda, Gary Frank, Mike McKone, Terry Dodson, Ben Herrerr, Paul Pelletier
Inkers: Al Milgrom, P. Craig Russell, Cam Smith, Mark Farmer, Mark McKenna, Tom Palmer, Tim Townsend, Hector Collazo
Letttering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Coloring: Steve Buccellato and Electric Crayon
Cover: Bryan Hitch
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1995
Cover Price: $4.95

With this issue, we’re back to the “real” reality/universe/timeline/whatever. The 616 Marvel Universe. Bishop and his mission was a success, and by stopping Legion from killing Xavier…the Age of Apocalypse never happened, things have been set right. Or have they?

We have a bunch of plot points sharing this issue…while the various Age of Apocalypse mini-series led into X-Men: Omega, this issue now serves as the focal point for the return of the “regular” X-Men titles…as a “regular universe” Alpha issue to introduce readers to the current status quo of the characters and teams that make up the X-side of the Marvel Universe and send the readers into the mix of titles having had this bit of setup for where things are moving forward.

I do think that if Free Comic Book Day had been around in 1995, this would certainly have been a Marvel offering…an in-continuity quasi-anthology to get readers to jump aboard the entire line of X-comics.

I can’t say I’m honestly all that thrilled with this issue on this re-read. I certainly appreciate that there are “only” two writers credited, offering a bit of consistency to the story side of things. The issue is quite a mix visually due to the numerous pencilers and inkers getting their chance to work on pages presumably germane to the individual titles. Reading through this time, I noticed a bit of wonky art at points, but somehow was not particularly jarred by the shifts…perhaps for familiarity with the Age of Apocalypse stuff as a whole.

After the shiny “chromium” covers for X-Men: Alpha and X-Men: Omega, seems Marvel felt the need to give this a special cover as well–a clear plastic-ish thing with an inner orangey background. We also get the “alternate” X-Men logo, with the Prime part next to it…and the whole thing is a wrap-around (which I very much appreciate 20 years later in an age of VARIANT “interlocking” covers).

The story introduces or re-introduces some characters–and I even see hints of Onslaught in this reading. We find out that several characters–Nate Grey, Dark Beast, Sugarman, and Holocaust–escaped the Age of Apocalypse and wound up in the real timeline. Nate first appears in the “present,” while Magneto’s Acolytes only now in the present discover what will be revealed to be Holocaust…but Beast and Sugarman arrived 20 years ago, and were responsible for the Morlocks and Genosha’s Mutates, respectively. Marrow is reintroduced, aged twenty years from a prior appearance…Rogue and Iceman are on a roadtrip, the former haunted by whatever she saw in Gambit’s memories (Gambit’s in a coma). Trish Tilby reveals the Legacy Virus to the public along with the knowledge that it’s affecting humans as well as Mutants. X-Factor chases Mystique and Havok’s powers act up on him; X-Force’s base is destroyed. Wolverine is living in the woods outside Xavier’s mansion (refusing to reside under the same roof as Sabretooth) and Bishop is having unconscious outbursts as a result of the visions he’s having as a result of his temporal status in relation to the Age of Apocalypse. Amidst all this a mutant seeks the X-Men but winds up victim of humans lashing out against something they fear and do not understand.

This certainly sets up the various X-titles moving forward, so for that alone is pretty much an “essential read.” Yet, unless one intends to pursue those issues from mid-1995 that this is immediately germane to, there’s not much to really dig into singularly with this issue. Outside of characters involved and how they now will interact in the 616 universe, there’s no actual story-content directly tied to the story of the Age of Apocalypse timeline.

Given that, my covering of this issue is much like why I covered the non-Legion Quest X-books that preceded Age of Apocalypse: this is stuff coming out on the “other end”, the border, “bleed,” or whatever butting up against the Age of Apocalypse without actually BEING an issue of that..

While rarer than the Alpha or Omega issues in bargain bins, I certainly would not pay much more than cover price for this (and that would be a grudgingly-paid price). I’d seek this out to use as a starting point diving into any or all of the X-books of the time but certainly not if you’re only interested in the Age of Apocalypse.

Unlike contemporary Marvel, this does not kick off “the next” EVENT but rather gives the individual titles time to flex and explore their own things for awhile before everything heats up again with the following year’s Onslaught stuff.

xmenprime_wraparound

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Amazing X-Men #4

aoa_revisited_logo

amazingxmen004On Consecrated Ground

Plot: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Andy Kubert
Inker: Matt Ryan
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Color Art: Kevin Somers and Digital Chameleon
Cover: Andy Kubert, Matt Ryan
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Here we are…the second-to-last issue of the entirety of this (as we’re in 2015 I have to use the word "original" to specify) Age of Apocalypse story.

The issue opens with Bishop in the hands of the Madri as they prepare to "sacrifice" him so that his knowledge does not pass further and inspire others to consider a world in which Apocalypse does not presently rule. Storm bursts onto the scene and frees him, though the doing drains her considerably. While this is going on, Quicksilver and Banshee locate the source of the Madri–Jamie Madrox–as we learn that the Madri are all "just" dupes of Jamie. Meanwhile, Rogue and her group arrive back at the mansion to learn Magneto has been taken and her son Charles is missing. Nightcrawler bamfs in with Destiny; Colossus and Kitty had also arrived with Illyana and now deliver the news that their students died in freeing the girl. Dazzler and Exodus return as well, Gambit and Lila Cheney in tow…but no sign of Charles. Rogue lashes out at Gambit for not returning with her child; while Banshee sacrifices himself to put an end to Abyss, and Madrox gives his own life to shut down the Madri and thus save Storm and Bishop. The various pieces of Magneto’s planning have come together, borne fruit…and the X-Men stand ready to end the age of Apocalypse.

Though this issue does technically continue threads from the previous issue, in many ways it feels more like a filler issue, not belonging to its own series, but rather, tying things together to funnel/filter several things into X-Men: Omega and the end of the overall AoA story arc. There’s a lot going on, though nothing really gets much focus.

The story as such doesn’t work as a solo issue, and even as a final issue, too much "space" is given to converging plotlines for this to really fit the standard expectation of a final issue. I suppose I’d say that this issue lacks much of its own identity as a chapter of an individual thread about to be woven back into a larger whole. Yet, this certainly sets things up and if one reads this issue, it certainly does not make much sense not to continue on to X-Men: Omega.

The art is good. Nothing really stands out positive or negative, though if anything it might be the portrayal of Abyss. I can’t quite figure out if I like or dislike the character’s appearance…though it’s a credit to the visual team that I can "hear" the sound of the character’s movements in my head.

This issue is a sort of bridge between the other minis and X-Men: Omega; particularly Generation Next, X-Calibre, Astonishing X-Men, and Gambit and the X-Ternals…really only leaving out Weapon X, X-Man, and Factor-X, as those series’ finales I believe are more directly connected to the pages of the bookend special.

The end of this issue points out the continuation into X-Men: Omega…which apparently was on sale the same week, so there would have been the double-dose of story, and making this one functionally an extension if one bought both. X-Men: Alpha, 8 4-issue series, two 2-issue series and a profile book…this is–if my math’s correct–the 39th part of AoA, with everything wrapping up in a 40th issue, capping things off.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Gambit and the X-Ternals #4

aoa_revisited_logo

gambitandthexternals004The Maze

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Salvador Larrocca
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Cover: Salvador Larrocca, Al Milgrom
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: June 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

We pick up some time after the previous issue, and find our focal characters split. Dazzler and Exodus appear, and find the remains of the Nanny robot that was tasked with protecting Rogue and Magneto’s son. We then change scenes to later and elsewhere, to Apocalypse personally interrogating Rictor over his failure. We flash back from there to Gambit and Lila running from Rictor and those characters’ confrontation…and back to Apocalypse. Another flashback shows Jubilee with a child running from Guido (Strong Guy) who has apparently betrayed the group. We see more of the interrogation, and flash back to Rictor vs. Strong Guy and Strong Guy vs. Gambit. Gambit is forced to make a decision…and we move back to Apocalypse and learn of Rictor’s outcome as well as Strong Guy’s…and end on Gambit and Lila.

This issue is a great illustration (no pun intended) of how great single-issue comics can be when treated AS a single issue, even if it’s part of a larger story or mini-series or such. The storytelling is stylistically quite different from the previous issues…instead of things simply unfolding chronologically, this issue picks up "at the end" and while we learn of where things ARE we’re caught up on how things got there from where we ended from the previous issue. Though the characters, their mission, and this 4-issue series are part of one ongoing story, this is "just" one more issue, existing AS an issue, as its own entity, rather than simply being the fourth chunk of a singular story that was split into four equal pieces to be serialized.

I really enjoyed this shift in style, despite a bit of confusion at first. I certainly would have benefitted from a "Previously…" page as I did not recall the ending of the previous issue; but as this issue unfolds and we have the flashbacks and glimpses of the present, one is caught up rather easily (though Guido’s betrayal is still a bit iffy to me).

I was distracted enough by the story that the art was just "there," good and all but it didn’t distract me. I simply followed the story and appreciated the visuals for what they were.

I did not recall the events of this series or issue, but here found it a fitting end…concluding the adventure, leaving things at a place simultaneously dark and light, and directing readers to the end of the Age of Apocalypse itself by way of Amazing X-Men #4 and then X-Men: Omega.

The ’90s Revisited: X-O Manowar/Iron Man in Heavy Metal #1

90srevisitedxomanowar_ironman_heavymetal001Heavy Metal part 1

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Andy Smith
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Color Art: Twilight Graphics
Assistant Editor: Omar Banmally
Consulting Assistant Editor: Nancy Poletti
Consulting Editor: Mark Gruenwald
Editor: Lynaire Thompson
Editor in Chief: Bob Layton
Published by: Acclaim Comics/Valiant
Cover Date: September 1996
Cover Price: $2.50

I vaguely remember when this series was originally out. I don’t remember details, but I’m supposing (in retrospect) that the Iron Man connection is what caught my eye…though there was probably Wizard coverage, and I wasn’t unaware of X-O Manowar from the #0 issue at least. Of course, there was the video game, which this is based on or inspired by or what-have-you. Given Acclaim was doing the video game, and had bought Valiant, it makes a lot of sense that there’d be a tie-in comic.

While I’ve found many of the "later" Valiant comics, this issue has eluded me until recently when I noticed both issues of the "crossover" on eBay. Being edged out on the bidding at the last second I looked for other instances, and including shipping scored a copy of both this X-O Manowar/Iron Man issue and the companion Iron Man/X-O Manowar for the price of a single contemporary Marvel comic. While this oughtta be quarter-bin fodder, not finding it that way made it worthwhile to me to pay a bit of a premium just to HAVE the issues.

The cover looks rather odd to me–far from an ideal thing, and rather generic. There’s something a bit "off" to me about both armors…probably the "early digital" art, which may even be a still from the video game (I don’t care enough to investigate further). Either way for a cross-company crossover this does not look like anything special from the cover alone.

Upon opening the issue I immediately saw an art style that did not appeal to me. I don’t know if I’ve seen or liked anything else from Andy Smith, but in this issue, I am not a fan. It’s not horrible art, and it’s certainly far, FAR superior to anything I could possibly do myself. It gets things across and isn’t too wonky or anything…basically it does its intended job but does not stand out as anything special.

Seeing Nicieza‘s name as the writer was an immediate appeal for me…but getting into the issue I felt rather left down. This thing’s all over the place and does not feel developed at all. We jump from villains we aren’t given much about to other villains; and world to world. I found myself confused to realize partway through that we’re actually dealing with MULTIPLE sets of Iron Man/X-O Manowar and not just the two characters being matched up for a single double-universe adventure.

I believe this was a time when Iron Man had been "de-aged" or replaced by a younger parallel-dimension version of himself or some such, so that’s not ENTIRELY off-putting to "learn" here but that’s not really explained. And given this is an issue from Acclaim, it’s certainly well-past the X-O Manowar stuff I was familiar with, am familiar with…and having just read a 2015-published issue of the contemporary X-O Manowar series found the character dull and not at all 3-dimensional here.

I’ve often enjoyed Nicieza‘s work, particularly his X-Men stuff, and find myself seeing this as being completely hobbled by BEING a video game tie-in, presumably with a bunch of "checklist" points to be hit during the issue. And with Acclaim and Marvel both getting to publish an issue, there’s probably a certain bit of symmetry that had to be achieved as well. All of which ultimately leads to an issue that I didn’t enjoy.

I would be incensed at having paid full price for this–particularly had it been published in 2015 and passed off as anything supposedly special. However, it’s still something that I’ve been curious about for years, and a definite "artifact" of its time…so despite not enjoying the issue, I do expect I’ll read the Marvel-published one as well just to "get the story," and all that. Unfortunately this does somewhat taint my expectations toward the bulk of the Acclaim-published Valiant stuff and makes me hesitate just a bit on diving into reading any of those anytime soon.

Age of Apocalypse Revisited: Gambit and the X-Ternals #3

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gambitandthexternals003To The Limits of Infinity

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Salvador Larrocca
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Color Art: Javins, Rosas, Webb, Thomas
Separations: Electric Crayon
Cover: Salvador Larrocca, Al Milgrom
Editor: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

Gambit’s crew has located the M’Kraan crystal…but realize the task before them–to actually steal it and return with it to Earth–may well be impossible. Still, they get beamed down to the planet, where their immediate welcome is quite hostile. As the group splits, Gambit and Deathbird follow Lila into the crystal itself after she was pulled in…where they meet a creature who explains to them what the crystal is, what it can do, and how important this mission truly is. Outside the crystal, the rest of the group faces an additional welcome party of Gladiator and Rictor as the situation goes south in a hurry…leading them to enter the crystal as a final, desperate attempt at survival. Once in the crystal, they’re just in time to see the crystal accept something of Gambit, and finally with Sunspot’s sacrifice, the group attempts to return home.

This issue seems to be the core of the series…we have the introductory stuff and setup in the first issue, the characters regrouping and dealing with being tossed across the universe in the second…here we actually see them get what they came for and presumably wrap up. Of course, there’s one issue to go, and we end on Lila’s declaration that she will not fail (to get them home)…but we don’t actually see them get home.

The art continues its consistent good quality as with the previous issues…really no particular complaint or gripe from me. I liked it, and sped through the issue without being "taken out of the story"  by anything weird in the art itself…I simply saw the characters and situations and that’s what the art is supposed to do.

Gambit’s internal conflict here is easy for me to empathize with–the feelings he’s continued to hold onto for Rogue, challenged by his presently being with Lila. That he’s forced to deal with his own feelings in order to save the universe itself is a rather deep thing to ponder. I’m also not familiar with Jahf, if he’s appeared before or not…there’s just enough ambiguity that I could see either option equally likely. Other than Bishop himself, I think this is the first we’ve seen any "confirmation" in-story that this reality is not the "real" one, and for the first time (maybe ever) I feel like there’s a reasonable hint of how the AoA reality has "continued to exist" to present-day.

The issue’s end is lofty–a declaration that failure will not happen. It nicely caps the last couple issues, but leaves things open for the next issue and conclusion of this particular mini. There’s no doubt the characters will face further hurdles before any of them make it to X-Men: Omega, and it’ll be interesting to see the "bridge" between this issue and that.

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